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Monday, July 22, 2024

Real estate agencies: Threat to our sovereignty as Gambians

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All human beings are born equal with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Flying from Dubai to Accra, the ever-present Expo 2020 displayed everywhere, with a good Internet connection onboard Emirates flight EK787, one cannot but reflect on the ever used or misused word in The Gambia – Sovereignty!  Are we sovereign when we do not have a house we call our own? When our landlord is foreign, when we pay our rent in foreign currency, or when our more illustrious sons and daughters drive the economy across the aisle. Access to housing is a cardinal human right – not a privilege! 

The real loss of sovereignty is being a tenant in your own country!

The Gambia land ownership (refer to local government and ministry of lands) has made it easier for anyone from anywhere to purchase a piece of land, own it, develop it, and earn money off of it. It is, therefore, both legal and within compliance and ethics to see non-Gambians own land. It is quite logical if one is tempted to ask why home-based Gambians can’t buy land or develop their inherited lands.  Obviously, due to the better purchasing power of those abroad or non-Gambians, it’s not unusual to see them own lands in the commercial areas of The Gambia.

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This begs the question – are the foreign owners to be blamed? No! Indeed, some Gambians with strong purchasing powers own properties across the globe but with stringent measures applied by those countries for the benefit of the state and its people. In The Gambia, when were our land reform and ownership laws last reviewed and legislated upon?

I would say congratulations to our hardworking non-Gambians in this country who are not only owning property but developing and employing our people.

Therefore the question: Is our sovereignty being compromised by the poor legislation on land ownership and tenure system?  Yes! And this leads me conveniently to my subject of discussion, Gambian real estates as a compromise of our sovereignty.

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When one takes a drive on the so-called Kombo coastal roads one sees signboards or offices of over one hundred real estate companies (or must I say, land agents as they are involved in buying a plot of land, demarcating and selling it off for profit). Some of these agents are nothing but scammers, and sadly nothing comes out of their scams (this would be the subject of another article). This conveniently leads to another inconvenient question: Do we have proper legislation in place for someone to operate a real estate agency? What are the terms and conditions? The number of land cases in courts would not end for the next century! I would argue that perhaps four to five of the real estates in The Gambia are compliant and serious business-minded. The rest, I do not know what to call them! Still on the real estates, when one looks at the prices quoted for places around the Yundum airport, Jabang, Sanyang – forget the waterfront as those bring a different mix to the table – local Gambians are simply priced out of the equation.

Imagine a 3-4-bedroom house selling for US$120,000 to US$200,000 payable in 2-3 years! Who are they targeting? This is D6million to D10million! How many Gambians can afford that? Besides the lack of legislation on land ownership, are the real estate agencies not part of those making us foreigners in our country? Imagine being a tenant to a Senegalese as she or he has been able to purchase and build and you couldn’t. The rent is also in US dollars or even CFA or Euros – mortgages are in hard currencies. Hygiene is needed in the real estate industry if we do not want to forfeit our sovereignty as Gambians.

SSHFC is, in my view – I don’t claim the monopoly of knowledge – supposed to be the main driver to step in and help out those who contribute to the National Provident Fund. This will ease access to affordable housing but this is not the case. The last time I checked, SSHFC was selling a 15m x 20m in Brusubi for D650-800! Who can afford that unless the targets are Gambians abroad or foreigners? The very people who contribute to the fund are forgotten – what a shame! It’s not unusual to see a retired official engaged in civilised begging – no house to call their own! Sad! I can go on and on, but what is the point?  The more I think of The Gambia and our people, the more I am inclined to give my view and hope someone somewhere in the corridors of power picks and apply them.

So, what’s my prescription, knowing that we are in a global village, are global citizens, and need to encourage diversity and inclusion, investment and advancement? I submit the following:

1-   Introduce land reforms including but not limited to per square metre charge per zone to reduce the over pricing of land.

2-    Real estates or agents need to have a deposit of at least D100 million or have a bank guarantee of that equivalent. This will remove all the scammers from the system. The buyers will be at ease.

3-   The Dalasi is the legal tender in the country. It must be respected. All rents, mortgages, and sales shall be in Gambian Dalasi. This will reduce mass or hyperinflation.

4- SSHFC should build low-cost housing for contributors to the fund for D500,000 or above. This will reduce the stress on rent and land ownership.

5- The Department of Physical Planning should demarcate roads well before the land is allocated to avoid narrow roads and encroachment on parts of the road. The OIC roads project has its work cut out.

6-   Alkalolu and seyfolu cannot sell land without prior approval from the Ministry of Lands, and the lands should be leased to avoid the double or triple sale of the same property. 

7-    The Government of The Gambia should push for the establishment of a building or housing bank such as the Banque de l’Habitat  of Senegal to help middle and low income earners build their dream homes.

8-    Government should reserve lands to be sold only by an act of parliament. We need to reserve space for recreational activities for our children and for generations yet unborn, not to mention greenery.

9-  We should invite investors to invest along our coastline and limit the powers of the Gambia Tourism Board. It’s certainly not working! Any Gambian who wants to build or develop a business should be given the opportunity – even a 10x15m! Same applies for foreign investors as this would create jobs!

10-  Advocacy and awareness talks on land should be started. Land is a limited commodity, and if we don’t guard it jealously, we can expect another South Africa and Zimbabwean type land debacle in The Gambia.

To conclude, our flawed and defunct land legislations are degrading this country’s sovereignty being sacrificed at the altar of greedy Gambian real estate agencies and agents. Without shelter for our people – a fundamental human right – we are invariably violating a sacrosanct and inviolable human right. Hygiene is needed in the real estate sector through implementation of urgent land reforms. Only then can we salvage our  sovereignty as Gambians!

The author, Ismaila Badjie has an MBA from the University of Liverpool. He works in shipping and logistics.

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